‘The Tank’ Sound Sanctuary Offers Another World Experience | Colorado News


By SETH BOSTER, La Gazette

RANGELY, Colorado (AP) – Something – no one can really say what – is happening on a sandy hill.

Here sits a 65-foot rusty cylinder once built to store water, sporting an old railroad logo and graffiti over the years. Inside is a young woman with long jet black hair in a Victorian dress and a young man with a simple outfit and a tousled beard.

They don’t wear shoes because the epoxy paint must be preserved, he explains. “Because it slows people down, mostly,” he says. And because we don’t wear shoes in a sacred place.

Samantha Wade and Michael Van Wagoner make music. But it doesn’t sound like any music you’ve heard.

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His guitar is familiar, but the notes are not. Each chord emits a transformed frequency that travels through the curved steel to the steel cap, where the pink and blue light fixtures gently cut through the darkness. Wade’s flute resonates in the same way. She adds to the pulsating cadence a voice that has been described as angelic.

“Transcendent,” says an admirer sitting next door, Heather Zadra, whose every whisper is amplified into more echoes. “From another world.”

They are “ethereal voices” as Wade describes them. These are hums. Incantations without words. High and low tones of a ringing diaphragm. And they whirl, fly and dance with his ever-throbbing flute and Van Wagoner’s eternal and endless guitar.

There is something terrifying about the effect, about how overwhelming and mysterious things are terrifying. There is also something that makes you want to cry. That’s what happened to an artist here; he read poetry, rubbed metal against the walls and cried.

Welcome to the Sonic Arts Center. Or just the Tank, as this impossible sanctuary of sound is known in the remote Colorado desert, perched atop the oil fields about 90 miles north of Grand Junction.

It has become known among experimental musicians as an ultimate laboratory and among curious audiences as a one-of-a-kind concert hall. This summer, a revered Oregon “synth wizard” performed, along with a Brooklyn string quartet. Not knowing what to expect, members’ eyes widened when they started playing.

The Tank defies expectations. Magic, some say. Extraterrestrial. mind-blowing. The disbelievers look for a hidden microphone or device responsible for the trick.

But no. Resident engineers say it’s something about thick, rounded walls. Something about the dimensions. Something about the Tank’s place on a gravel bed, and something about the concave roof. Something about isolation, sterility. And something, too, about the desert climate; sound waves are more “excited” in heat.

No one can really say what.

“It’s just space,” Zadra says. “The space is so generous.”

Zadra sits on the nonprofit board of Tank, which formed after 2013. In that year, there were concerns that the structure would be lost forever.

Wade, who grew up nearby, learned that the owner was considering selling scrap metal. It sent her into a panic.

“I actually prayed and prayed and prayed, because I felt like it just couldn’t happen. It was just like a violation of my soul, ”she said. “And luckily at that point, so many others experienced it where it was far from just me.”

Locals had known about the plot for decades, ever since a company’s misguided water storage scheme was scrapped in the 1960s.

Before the submarine-like door was installed, the youths cut the lock of a drain hole and crawled in the dark to flirt and laugh at the echoes of broken beer bottles and stereos. The graduates filled the space with triumphant cries and left their mark in the spray paint.

The Tank became a cult phenomenon after 1976.

Bruce Odland had just graduated from Northwestern University in Illinois, where he studied composition and conducting. He ended up in Colorado that summer for a traveling arts festival with other avant-garde artists exploring the limits of consciousness.

In Rangely, Odland roamed the oil fields to create a collage of mechanized sounds.

“And then this truck arrived,” he recalls. “Two big oil workers come towards me in a big truck covered in mud, and they ask me if I’m the sound guy. They said, “We have something to show you. “

At the end of a bumpy and disorienting run, Odland reluctantly agreed to crawl into the hole, fearing it was some dastardly prank. The men bumped into the walls two by four and threw stones.

“And when they stopped, it rang and rang and rang,” says Odland. “I had never heard anything like it.

Never in some of the world’s most awe-inspiring soundscapes had he visited until this point and beyond. “It’s 10 times the effect of entering Saint Paul’s Cathedral,” he says.

However, the experience was indeed religious in the tank minus the pictures and the sermon.

“The Tank has the great luxury of being free from all of this,” says Odland. “You are just in a very perceptual experience, where you are not guided to any particular conclusions. Everyone feels there is some sort of spiritual connection in there, but no one is describing it for you.

After his introduction, he showed other festival-goers later that night the Tank. He remembers the ensuing event accompanied by instruments as “shamanic in a way”.

They went to their homes across the country. But they have returned year after year to the Tank – pilgrims to their Mecca.

– “Tank power”

After the discovery of Odland, the album titles attempted to capture the essence of the Tank. “The bird in flight,” one of them was called. Others were “Leaving Eden” and “Ray of Life”.

Michael Stanwood titled his after the exploration hole, “Portal”, and described the Tank as “a ship where serendipity is ever alive, patience is rewarded, trust is maintained, and surrender can sometimes give way.” make way for a feeling of grace. “

Ownership of the reservoir fell under Stanwood. He collected donations from Odland and other “tankers” to pay taxes.

But like other owners before him, Stanwood was wary of liability. In 2013, he told friends he was considering an offer to sell.

This is how the New York-based nonprofit led by Odland began. Friends of the Tank, they called each other from across the country – “an eclectic group of artists, sound explorers and practical minds bound by a common experience.”

And they weren’t all strangers. Wade hung flyers around his hometown advising of the mission to retrieve the tank and officially open it to residents and visitors.

In a conservative city bereft of artistic outlets and prouder of hard work, common sense, roast pork, hunting, and off-roading, Wade has always considered herself an outcast. “I was the strangest one,” she says.

But she always felt at home in the Tank. Opening it up to others, she believed, could lead to mutual understanding and deep connection. Zadra, another local, felt the same.

The Tank “shows us where we have common ground,” she says. “You walk into a space like this, I don’t care who you are, I don’t care about your background, I don’t care if it becomes something you come back to.” But we all experience the power of the Tank.

With the funds raised, savvy locals offered their support to help upgrade the Tank. One of them proposed to build a real road up the hill. Another offered an electrical expertise. A local restaurant added a Tank pizza to the menu, with sales benefiting the association.

The experimental concerts of the past few years have not appealed to most Rangely, admits Zadra. But between events and recording sessions, the inhabitants of the Tank often mingle with strangers – country people and city hippies exploring the sound together.

“I’ve brought in groups of strangers, and one starts humming, another starts humming, and in about 10 minutes they’re sounding like a heavenly choir,” says James Paul, Executive Director of The Tank. .

He adds, “There is something to be said about an experience that takes you out of yourself and takes you away from our ordinary concerns. That’s one of the reasons the Tank transcended politics, I think. And at this point in American history, it’s such a delight. “

Odland considers the Tank as a confirmation of his great theory of sound.

Basically, he says, we are not listening enough.

We listen to television and radio. We listen to our movies and our music.

But do we listen to our environment? asks Odland. Nature noises that we like, for example, and traffic noises that we don’t like? Are we listening to what the world is telling us? Are we listening to each other?

The company is “too visual,” says Odland, distracting and quick to stir emotions. “I think the sound has an important message that is largely ignored.”

– The Tank has a message.

Talk to someone, for example, and the sound is muffled, echoing the cacophony. Speak too fast and too loud, and the result is the same. Here, groups consistently find that they have to slow down, locate each other’s sound, and then join in.

There is a certain balance to be struck here. A certain kind of harmony.

“I think whoever walks in there gets their ears woken up,” Odland says. “And when they come out of there, their ears are always awake.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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